BACK TO: Jean Charlot's First Fresco: The Massacre in the Main Temple
Jean Charlot's First Fresco:
The Massacre in the Main Temple
motif général : surfaces rouges, violet nuit et noir se coupants. rayonnants de foyers distincts. au bas hémisphère foncé (noir marron pourpre) représentant la terre. objets : crânes (mi-naturels-mi-negatifs (1) cartes à jouer. surfaces bleu-horizon sali (vidace) avec taches bou e (noir cerné marron). sang (sang naturel) représentants les soldats. (2) un casque (gris fer) allemand FIGURE croix rouge et croix de bois (3) sorte d'arc en ciel FIGURE côté rouge blanc noir bleu. etc. béquilles FIGURE molletière FIGURE semelle
puis insignes de l'arrière : signe représentant patrie (14 Juillet) Journal. doeuil. Lampion FIGURE ruban portant toutes les décorations FIGURE pantoufles FIGURE calot grec déployé FIGURE journaux (naturel et négatif).
GQG et diplomates : a) général. surfaces garance bande noir et bleu étoilées or + galons parties en négatif (ét. noires. fond rouge). carte état major
diplomates : plastron smoking naturel et négatif
lauriers au naturel
Aztec ideography and Gleizes
on a "planarist" picture. subject: war
Translation by John Charlot
general motif: red surfaces, night violet and black cutting across each other. light beams from different points. at bottom darkened hemisphere (black maroon purple) representing the earth. objects: skulls (half positive, half negative (1) playing cards. horizon blue surfaces (shaved soldier) dirtied with mud stains (black encircled with maroon). blood (natural color) representing the soldiers. (2) a German helmet (metal gray) red cross and wooden cross (3) sort of rainbow side red white black blue. etc. crutches puttees shoe-sole
then insignias of the rear and the home front: sign representing the fatherland (July 14) Newspaper. mourning. night or votive light ribbon with all decorations slippers unrolled cap-band with Greek meander design newspapers (positive and negative).
GHQ and diplomats: a) general. surfaces madder-red band black and blue starred with gold + stripes with parts negative (stars black. background red). ordnance survey map
diplomats: smoking-jacket dickey positive and negative
naturally colored laurels
Réponse à Molina
J'ai été frappé, à mon arrivée à Mexico, du contraste entre la spiritualité de la race indienne et la civilisation mécanique venue d'Europe d'abord, des États-Unis maintenant. Entre ces deux civilisations, il y a eu et il y a choc parce qu'elles sont incompatibles. L'une doit se taire devant l'autre. Ici, la vaincue est la civilisation indienne. Une telle "bataille" de races, considérée en soi, serait anecdotique. Elle tire sa valeur de ce qu'elle n'est qu'une illustration de ce conflit plus général qui existe entre la recherche du Beau et du bien d'un côté, et celle de l'argent et du jouir de l'autre. Pour représenter plastiquement cela, il fallait choisir un fait, non pour le représenter en soi, mais comme prétexte à énoncer ces constatations. L'histoire fournit un événement qui, par ces lignes générales comme par ses détails, s'adapte parfaitement à ce moule préconçu : le massacre des seigneurs au cours d'une danse des fleurs, au Templo Mayor, par Alvarado (relire P. Duran). L'écueil était qu'une reproduction purement historique de ce fait en aurait affecté la signification symbolique. Le spectateur satisfait dans ces connaissances archéologiques superficielles n'aurait pas cherché plus profondément. J'ai donc, volontairement, employé l'anachronisme comme indication donnée au spectateur que le spectacle représenté n'était pas réel, mais figuré d'un événement semblable sur le plan intellectuel.
La répartition des masses donne l'idée générale :
a) répartition des masses :
C'est un équilibre absolument instable fournissant l'idée mouvement. L'accumulation des noirs en haut ajoute à l'idée d'instabilité celle d'écrasement des deux masses "combattantes", l'une est pénétrée par l'autre, très supérieure en volume, en vitesse et en force.
b) Anachronismes et détails:
Du côté des Mexicains les plumes d'autruche, bijoux, fleurs, toutes choses sans défensive, fournissant l'idée d'intellectualisme et d'esthétique. Les expressions psychologiques n'ont pas un rapport direct avec l'action. Non plus les gestes. Cela culmine dans la jeune fille (sans type ethnique) que pénètre une lance. L'invraisemblance de sa tranquillité affirme bien qu'elle n'est là, non comme personnage vivant, mais comme idée de douceur et de grâce.
Identique invraisemblance de l'Indien qui tient la légende explicative. La tristesse et l'effroi de certaines figures se rapportent plutôt à l'état d'abjection de la race indienne dans la suite des temps, que directement à l'action.
Du côté "espagnol," si j'ai choisi des armures rappelant celles du XIIIe s. (et non du IX siècle comme l'affirma un érudit en veine de gaffes!), c'est que leur aspect fermé (j'ai supprimé jusqu'aux visières), métallique, impersonnel, fournit mieux l'idée mécanique. J'ai voulu, non une réunion d'hommes, mais quelque chose comme une locomotive en pleine vitesse. Pour cela aussi, j'ai supprimé au maximum les détails humains (mains, visages) ne laissant que l'indispensable à indiquer l'esprit de sauvagerie qui anime cette masse.
Le groupe des spectateurs sur la droite est l'artifice ordinaire qu'employaient les artistes pour les visions ou représentations symboliques. (cf. : Apocalypse d'Amiens).
Ce mur a été exécuté tel qu'il a été conçu. L'idée fondamentale qui l'anime, exprimée avec une telle intransigeance, est peut-être injuste, mais la plastique ne se prête pas aux nuances.
Answer to Molina
Translation by Jean Charlot
At my arrival in Mexico, I was struck by the contrast offered by the spirituality of the Indian race and the mechanical civilization imported first from Europe and then from the United States. Between those two civilizations, there has been and is an impact as they are incompatible. One must yield to the other. Here the vanquished is the Indian mode. Such a "clash" between races could be anecdotal, but has general validity as the symbol of a conflict of more general character: between the search for the Beautiful and Good and that for Money and Pleasure. To make this plastically understandable, one had to pick an event and to depict in it those conclusions rather than the event itself. History suggests such a happening that perfectly fits this preconceived mold. The Massacre of the Indian nobles by Alvarado as they were performing a floral dance in the main temple (of Mexico City) (P. Duran as a source). The difficulty was that a strictly historical presentation of this incident would obscure its symbolical significance. The spectator, satiated by a display of archaeological knowledge, would not look further. I have purposely used anachronism as a hint to the onlooker that the spectacle witnessed is unreal, that it is the hieroglyph for a parallel happening on the intellectual plane.
The repartition of masses furthers the main idea. It is a totally unstable equilibrium, communicating the idea of motion. The accumulation of blacks at the top of the picture adds to this unbalance a feel of crush. Of the two clashing masses, one is interpenetrated by the other, of much greater volume, speed and strength.
Anachronisms and details. On the side of the Mexicans, ostrich plumes, jewels, flowers, all defenseless things that further the idea of intellect and of aestheticism. The psychological expressions and gestures are obviously unrelated to the action, to culminate in the maiden (lacking all ethnical features) pierced by a lance; her impossible calm well expresses the fact that she is not there as flesh and blood, but personifies grace and gentleness. Also unreal is the Indian who holds the explanatory caption: The sadness, the fright expressed by some, relate rather to the servile state of the Indian race in times to come than to the present action.
On the "Spanish" side, if I chose armors reminiscent of the 13th Century (if I have even avoided the representation of eye slits)...it is that their aspect--hermetic, metallic, impersonal--communicates better the idea of machinery. Rather than a grouping of men, I wished to suggest a locomotive running full speed. To this end, I avoided human details (hands, faces), leaving only what was suggestive of the spirit of cruelty that animates this mass.
The group of spectators at the right is the usual convention that was used by artists dealing with visions of symbolical presentations (e.g., the Apocalypse of Amiens). This mural was carried to completion exactly as it was conceived. The basic idea embodied, expressed without compromise, is perhaps unfair, but the plastic language is not amenable to nuances.
Mur : la pierre a été mise à nu. Il y en a de diverses sortes, dominant le tezontle.
Couche intermédiaire : Composée de ciment et sable appliqués en mouchetis dans la proportion de 1 de ciment pour 5 de sable.
Le ciment est du ciment Watson.
Le sable (sable de mine) a été passé au tamis, la partie grosse étant employée pour cette couche préliminaire, et la partie fine réservée pour la couche superficielle.
Travail sur la couche intermédiaire :
A été passé à la gouache blanche tout le tracé géométrique de la composition, celui-ci devant servir de point de repère pour le travail des raccords.
Couche superficielle :
Composée de [espace] de chaux pour [espace] de sable fin et du ciment variant dans la proportion de 1 pour 4 à 1 pour 7 de chaux et sable. Ce mortier, spécialement homogène (il ne m'a donné aucune irrégularité au séchage) fabriqué ainsi : la chaux, éteinte au préalable et en poudre fine, le sable fin procédant du tamisage, furent mélangés à l'eau et battus fortement. En laissant sécher le mélange deux mois environ j'ai obtenu un pain de mortier sec friable. Au moment du travail quotidien, on en distrait la quantité nécessaire. Réduite en poudre et ajouté le ciment, on malaxe à l'eau jusqu'à la consistance désirable. Ce mortier me semble bien supérieur à celui dont chaux et sable ne sont mélangés qu'au moment de l'usage.
L'épaisseur de la couche est d'un demi-centimètre environ; je l'ai employée soit lisse soit rugueuse, suivant les effets à obtenir, soit en relief (quelques boutons d'armure), soit en creux (jeu de fond au matoir) et incrustée de divers métaux.
Cartons : Le tracé géométrique sur papier, grandeur naturelle. Quelques études de détails, grandeur naturelle. Une aquarelle au 1/10e pour échantillonner valeurs et couleurs.
Le calque au moyen de la roulette.
Couleurs : en poudre mélangées à l'eau, posées avec des pinceaux doux. Le noir ne m'a donné qu'une adhérence médiocre. Le vermillon (lances) est posé à l'encaustique, pour laisser au ton son maximum d'intensité.
Observations : Pour composer ce procédé j'ai consulté : pour les matériaux, Paul Baudouin (la fresque, Paris, librairie centrale des Beaux Arts) et le maîtremâçon Luis Escobar. Pour ce qui regarde la peinture, Cennini et mon expérience personnelle.
A) Quoique la fresque sur chaux pure soit plus agréable que toute autre, j'ai cru devoir employer le ciment comme composant un mortier plus résistant et non rayable à l'ongle, suivant d'ailleurs les indications de Baudouin, riche d'un demi-siècle d'expérience : L'emploi du ciment pour la couche intermédiaire est recommandé aux pages 17 et 18 de son ouvrage.
Son emploi pour la couche superficielle à la page 22 : "la chaux grasse, la chaux hydraulique et le ciment ont des qualités variées et peuvent servir toutes trois à la préparation du mortier," et p 23 : "le ciment fabriqué industriellement et livré en sacs plombés s'emploie tel quel. Il faut se servir de marques reconnues bonnes". page 30, il recommande (chapitre : Préparation du mortier) de mêler au ciment du sable fin.
Je dois reconnaître que le ciment semble boucher les pores du mortier, rendant l'application des couleurs plus délicate. Il occasionne aussi un séchage plus rapide. Je crois pourtant qu'il faut l'employer dans toutes les parties destinées à subir des frottements ou exposées à des agents de destruction, la chaux seule n'offrant aucune résistance.
B) Quoique presque tout mon enduit soit lisse, la supériorité d'un enduit légèrement râpeux me semble maintenant évidente. La superficie étant, pour deux morceaux d'égales dimensions, 4 ou 5 fois plus grande dans le cas de l'enduit râpeux, l'adhérence des couleurs est elle aussi, quintuplée. En plus le pinceau sur un tel enduit accroche mieux et on évite les coulages; Le séchage est lent.
C) Cette peinture terminée il y a plus de 6 mois n'a subit aucun changement visible. Elle a résisté déjà plusieurs lavages à conséquence des traits et dessins à la craie et au crayon qu'y firent à différentes reprises les élèves de l'Ecole. Ces lavages n'ont pas altéré le coloris. Il n'en est pas de même des bariolages dont on l'a surchargée à l'aide de rouge pour les lèvres. Cette matière en séchant a pénétré les pores du mortier. Elle paraît maintenant adhérer avec force (mutilant la tête de l'enfant et la bouche d'un des guerriers), jouant le même rôle qu'une couche de cire.
Cette peinture pour reprendre sa fraîcheur nécessiterait un lavage au jet d'eau, opération délicate car la moulure supérieure, peinte à la détrempe comme les moulures du plafond, se désagrégerait à l'eau et coulerait, en salissant la partie fresque.
Translation by Jean Charlot
WALL. The stone has been exposed, of varying types, mostly "Tezontle."
SCRATCH COAT. Of cement and sand applied by throwing it with the trowel. In the proportion of one of cement to five of sand. The cement is Watson cement. The sand (mine sand) has been sieved, the rough part used for the preliminary coat, and the fine part reserved for the final coat.
WORK DONE ON SCRATCH COAT. All the geometric tracing has been transferred with white gouache, to serve as a guide to check the position of edges.
FINAL COAT. Composed of (1) of lime to (2) of fine sand, cement added in the proportion of 1/4 to 1/7 of the total bulk of lime and sand. This mortar resulted especially homogeneous and has given no irregularity whatsoever in drying... I obtained it thus: the lime slaked beforehand and in fine powder, the fine sand resulting from sieving, were mixed with water and stirred vigorously. By letting the mixture dry for about two months, I obtained a brittle dough of dry mortar. At the moment of daily work, the necessary quantity for the day is taken from the mass, reduced to powder, and cement is added, the whole is stirred with water until the necessary consistency is obtained. This mortar proved quite superior to the one in which lime and sand are mixed at the moment of work.
The thickness of the final coat is approximately 1/2 centimeter; I have used it either smooth or rough, depending upon the effect sought. In relief (some armor hinges), indented (background all-over pattern obtained with a stamping tool), and incrusted with diverse metal applications.
CARTOON. The geometric tracing done full size on paper. Also full size some studies of details. A water color, scale 1/10th, to sample values and colors. The transfer to the final coat was done with a pattern marker (roulette).
PIGMENTS. In powder, mixed with water, painting done with soft brushes. Black has given only mediocre adherence. The vermillion (lances) is applied in encaustic, to allow the tone its maximum intensity.
REMARKS. I decided upon this procedure after consulting for the materials used, Paul Baudouin (La Fresque. Paris. Librairie Central des Beaux-Arts) and the master-mason Luis Escobar. For the actual painting, I consulted Cennini and my personal experience.
A. Though fresco on pure lime is more agreeable than any other, I felt compelled to use cement to the end of strengthening the mortar, to the point where it could not be scratched with the nail, following anyhow the suggestion of Baudouin, result of half a century of experience. The use of cement for the scratch coat is vouched for, pages 17-18 of his book; its use for the final coat, page 22: "Rich lime, hydraulic lime and cement have diverse properties and can all three be used in the preparation of the mortar..."; and page 23: "Commercial cement delivered in sealed bags can be used as is. It is wise to use reliable brands."; page 30, in the chapter on the preparation of the mortar, Baudouin recommends to mix cement with fine sand.
I must acknowledge that cement seems to stop the pores of the mortar, making the application of colors more difficult; it results also in quicker drying. I believe however that it should be used in all parts exposed to rubbings or destructive agents, the lime alone lacking resistancy.
B. Though most of the final coat is smooth, I realize now that a slightly rough surface is obviously best; comparing two pieces of contrasting textures of equal areas, the contacting surface is four or five times greater in the rough than in the smooth coat, and the adherence of pigment is increased in the same ratio. Furthermore, the brush bites better on such a (rough) surface, and drippings are eliminated; the drying is slow.
C. Completed more than six months ago, this painting has suffered no visible change. It has already been washed several times, the consequence of the scribbles and drawings in chalk and pencil with which the students of the school marked it from time to time. Those washings have not altered the coloring. One cannot say as much of certain daubs done in lipstick. In drying, this matter has soaked into the pores of the mortar and now appears to adhere strongly, defacing the head of the child and the mouth of one of the warriors; its reaction is similar to that of a coat of wax.
To recover its pristineness, the painting needs a washing with the hose, a delicate operation, because the upper wall molding is painted in distemper as well as the ceiling moldings; they would wash off under the action of water and drip, soiling the part of the wall painted in fresco.
The minds of painters work mysteriously. When I say that Michelangelo and Picasso do this and that, I really don't know. I am engaging in guesswork. There is only one painter I do know about--I know the way his mind works--and that is myself. So I am obliged to take myself as a guinea pig. I will analyze, rather in detail, a mural painting I did in Mexico City. There are so many angles to it that I will have to simplify.
The question of the point of view is very important in this case. Mural painters are not like easel painters. They paint not only right on the wall, on those two dimensions of the plane, but also in relation to the other walls of the room. That is, they do nearly what a sculptor does: start from three dimensions instead of two. I want to discuss that little problem of mine, which was interesting because it was a very mural problem, as far removed from easel ones as possible.
The shape given to me to paint was not a rectangle, but distinctly different, Figure II. The lowest diagonal line represents a staircase going up. At the top was a kind of balcony, and at the bottom was the horizontal floor of a landing. We saved the lower part of the wall for a dado of cement, which gave us the final shape to be painted, a very different one from the simple rectangle on which one usually paints.
The rectangle has a certain simple arrangement of proportions--for example, the way the smaller side can be worked onto the larger, Figure III. But on my wall, the different simple proportions and angles that the eye can find are already so complex that the painter can either forget them entirely--go against the logic of the job that he has in front of him--or else he can be so obedient to those different shapes that his job is greatly simplified. This may seem paradoxical, but a medium that gives you complete liberty--like oil painting--offers so many possibilities, so many infinitely different ways of solving a problem, that it becomes very difficult. On the contrary, a woodcut with a pocket knife and a piece of wood is technically so difficult, the material has such resistance, that it proves much simpler because there are so few solutions to the problem. The mural painter works in a difficult technique, which gives him little leeway. If he is obedient to his material, it proves itself, not an added difficulty, but really a simplification.
There is a story about Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, the mural painter. The French government had an enormous room to paint in the Pantheon in Paris. They cut the wall into little chunks, and each chunk was given to a master painter, all of whom, except Puvis de Chavannes, were horrible academicians who had never painted walls or even, if I may say so, easel pictures, because what they did couldn't be called painting. They all gathered in the room to look at the walls together. Puvis de Chavannes, who had done murals before, came in with a little paint box and little pieces of wood. All the others just gathered in the middle of the room and looked at how big it was. That is all they knew how to do. But Puvis de Chavannes took his little box and started mixing colors and comparing them to the tones of the walls, the floor, and the ceiling. As he was very busy with his own little business, one of those gentlemen said, "Well, Chavannes, what are you doing there?" "I am trying to work with the wall." The man said, "The wall? What's the wall? Nothing! I am going to do a painting." Puvis de Chavannes said, "Well, you had better watch the wall, or the wall will fall on you." Not only did the wall fall on the bad painters, who had not taken their color samples, but it actually ate them up. Of the six or seven painters in that room, the only one whose paintings can be seen are Puvis de Chavannes'. They are done in a much quieter tone, but in a much saner way. This is an illustration of how obedient you have to be to your material in mural painting.
The problem of the point of view in the wall I had to do was quite difficult, Figure IV. There was a little landing, standing on which a person would see the painting from very close and at a very wide angle, the bottom of the picture slightly below the eyes and the top high above them, A. Then, from the landing, there was a flight of stairs going up to a balcony. The person standing on the balcony was about level with the top of the painting, so his point of view was from up down, B. Then there was a flight of stairs going down from the landing to a floor, a second rest between the steps. Someone standing there would see the picture from another perspective, from down up, C.
Besides this problem of different perspectives, there was the question of distance. Standing on the landing, one sees the painting from very near. The average point of view from the balcony was about medium distance. The person on the lower stairs could see the painting only from far off. I had here all the possibilities put together of point of view and distance, Figures IV and V.
As I said earlier, distance influences technique, Figure V. Van Eyck, painting a picture to be seen with nose on the canvas, A, could use those great marvels of detail that Flemish painters do so well. Rembrandt, working for the medium distance, B, knows not to put in details because they really couldn't be seen from there. But he still masters the textural possibilities. His brush stroke at that distance acts not only as color and value, but also through its sheer strength. Rivera, knowing his mural will be seen only from a great distance, C, can rely neither on details nor on textural differences and brush strokes. He has to do something that is not a painting in the sense that we use it now; that is, it cannot be handled in an arty way, but he has to do a kind of house painter job of it so that it will be seen correctly at a distance. So here I was with the problems of Van Eyck, Rembrandt, and Rivera, all at once.
I showed earlier that any defect in diagonal vision can be corrected according to points of view, Figure VI. If I know my picture is to be seen from down up, I can correct it so that the optical picture will look normal, as El Greco often did. A head seen from up down will appear in a natural position to the person above it, B. A head seen from down up will appear in a natural position to the person seeing it from below, A. For a person looking at the picture from a normal point of view, it would be correct for the head to be level, C. Each problem can be handled well by using the point of view. But again, I had people seeing my wall from all three points of view. I knew that if I used one single point of view--if I sacrificed any of those three positions--people would come in by accident, stand in the wrong place, look at the picture in the wrong way, and decide I was no good.
Those were two of the problems I had: distance and point of view. There were three chapters to each--the three places from which the mural would be seen--so six problems.
A further problem was the relation of the two-dimensional plane of the picture to the architecture. That in itself is quite a job, Figure VII. There were not only the verticals of the wall and the columns, L, and the horizontal of the landing, QO, that had to be represented in the picture. There was also the diagonal of the staircase. Everybody who looked at this picture had to deal not only with the diagonal side of the picture itself, but with the steps, which had a great physical reality and as such were really part of the picture. But the stairs were even more complicated. One flight, MN, came down at an angle from the balcony to the landing, QO. They then continued in the opposite direction and at an equal angle down from the landing to the lower floor, OP. This lower flight of stairs was seen when you looked at the painting from the balcony or the landing. Also, very important, the people who looked at the painting had the actual physical exertion of working themselves up or down on those two diagonals. They had a working knowledge of them, so I knew that if the mural didn't account for that strong perception and experience of the diagonals, it would remain a kind of easel picture--that is, it wouldn't have all the coordination that mural painting must have. So that was an entirely different problem from the others, but a very delicate one also.
First, I tried to arrange the wall in terms of a rectangle, Figure VIII. I had on one side of the wall an upright rectangle, ANOD, which I could use as a basis for my planning. On the other side, I was reminded of the plan or intention I discussed when I analyzed the El Grecos and Cézannes. In the portrait of Madame Cézanne, the picture was tipped; the composition had been planned on an upright with the axis of the body parallel to the sides of the picture itself, and then it had been tipped sideways, Figure IX, which made the picture seem larger than its actual physical surface. In this planning of the Cézanne were the two possibilities I had with my wall. I had the true verticals and horizontals of the actual physical picture on one side of my wall, and on the other side, I had a diagonal, which was or could be considered the horizontal that had been tipped. So I started by correcting this tipped effect, that is, by reconstructing the entire rectangle before part of it had been moved, a rectangle in which all the lines are horizontals and verticals, Figure VIII, ABCD.
I then made on this reconstructed rectangle all the measurements found in any easel picture: Golden Sections, horizontal middle, and so on. Then I pivoted the right part of that whole rectangle around the axis 0 in exactly the same way, I would say, that a truck dumps its contents. The left part, the upright rectangle ANOD, could be considered the dumping spot. Whatever would be inside the tipped rectangle NBCO would slide into the upright one. The actual eating up of that rectangle on the left suggests a kind of resistancy and a kind of absorption of one part by the other, which is a movement.
It is a rather simple scheme, but it helped me in many ways, primarily by giving me two rectangles to work on instead of the original, difficult form. Even if the right rectangle is partly outside of the wall, Figure VII striped area, and a part of the wall is outside of my picture, Figure VII dotted area, the scheme nevertheless simplified the problem of the wall's odd shape by giving me the notion of two rectangles--one that did not move and the other that moved and moved against and into the stationary one.
I will treat only briefly the connection of the subject matter of the mural to the composition. The subject is part of Mexican history and would take too long to explain in detail. It took me a life-long consciousness of things and events in Mexico to get a kind of picture of it in my mind that could be translated into paint. But I will try to tell you quickly the things that happened in my mind, that were there much before I had to start that picture, and how they connected with the picture itself.
As you know, Mexico is made primarily of two races, the Indian and the Spanish. I prefer to say white man, because lately the Spanish and the Indian have been fighting together against other white men. The Indian race is rather static in itself. It cannot be thought of in terms of movement. Tourists see those people squatting on the ground and think they are doing nothing there. Well, the Indian has a way of doing things without moving. It is contrary to a certain kind of animation where you get a lot of movement and nothing in the end. So for me, this static rectangle on the left of the wall became assimilated to the Indian for a number of reasons. True verticals and true horizontals are admirably fitted to the Indian character. The Indian is always in close contact with the ground, which is a true horizontal, and, in squatting, takes a very different shape and proportions from the white man. A white man sitting on a chair has those little tooth picks under him. He has no correct relation with Mother Earth, so to speak. He is just staying on his own little artificial tripod and can and does lose contact very easily with the true dimensions, with the true horizontals and verticals. But the Indian, sitting on the horizontal of the ground, is absolutely close to it, fitting it like a glove. What makes him sit is the vertical force of gravity. The Indian is so obedient to the laws of nature that, being pulled downwards by the law of gravity, he just gathers himself to the ground as far as he can go. So those two forces--the horizontal and the vertical--seem to me an ideal symbol of the Indian. So he is represented well by that unmoving, upright rectangle, ANOD.
The other rectangle, NBCO, which I compared to a truck dumping something on the ground, reminded me very much indeed of the white man. It starts from a level, OC, that is a little higher than the level of the Indian, DO. Any white man who goes to Mexico feels himself a little higher than the Indian, on the level of civilization and progress. So this seems an ideal representation of that difference--not too much difference. The rectangle NBCO is also hitched to the point 0 and is turning with a little pendulum movement around it. To us Westerners, this looks rather static, but to the Indian it looks like a dance, a jazzing up. So this rectangle seemed to represent the white man very well. Another point was that we do not have in this section the true horizontals and verticals found in the other part of the picture. They have been mussed up by dynamics. Something has happened, and the whole thing is topsy-turvy, like houses sliding after a flood. That is also part of the make-up of the white people: moving around so much they think they are getting better, and what they are doing is losing their sense of orientation. I am telling you what passed through my mind at the time. You mustn't be angry with me.
Before the tipping of the rectangle NBCO, the two rectangles were good neighbors. They were just rubbing elbows slightly along the line NO. But after the tipping, a large portion of the rectangle ANOD has been absorbed by the other, NBCO. That is, the Indian, to follow my image, has been compressed into the little corner at the left. Now that corner or the compressed rectangle ANOD even has the shape of a squatting Indian seen from the side, Figure VIIIb. The Indian has been forced into that little corner by the tipping rectangle, and this white gentleman, through his means of progress, has eaten up a good portion of what had been the Indian heritage.
So the scheme, the subject matter, came to me just through reasoning out the composition. It was evident now that in this mural the left part would be devoted to the Indian and the right to the white man. The whole principle, the whole geometry and dynamics, represent a clash between the two races. So this picture was going to be a battle. It was very easy to find the subject in history. For a government building, I had to get a regular historical subject. I chose the battle of the Templo Mayor, The Massacre in the Main Temple. The Indians were in the middle of a feast. They were dancing with flowers in their hair, and the Spanish gentlemen surrounded the temple, rushed in, and made them prisoner or killed them. That subject didn't come to me out of a book, but out of the natural geometry of the shape I had to paint.
Of course, one of the main lines I had to use was NO, the line by which the conquest in a certain way is effected. It was also the line that completed the tipped rectangle. I will discuss only the main lines of the rather complicated linear composition. Those Spaniards were armed with lances, which are marvelous for composing with lines, an excellent pretext for composing with a ruler.
One of the main points of the composition is marked by lance 1 Figure VIIIb. The lance is painted in different areas of brilliant, opposed colors, so that it is the first thing that catches your eye in that part of the picture. The lance marks the Golden Section of the rectangle after tipping.
I was also careful to do what Cézanne did in his portraits of his wife: to keep in some places the natural horizontal, h, and vertical lines, v, remaining from the original position of the rectangle. These lines work as diagonals in the present, tipped position of the rectangle, because they have become opposed to the tipped sides. But they would have been the true verticals and horizontals of the rectangle before it was tipped.
On the left is a series of standing Indian chieftains actually being compressed by the Spaniards coming in. There is also an action of lines dumping down, the lines of the lances coming in at the steepest angle from the top right, 2. I used other lines, 3, parallel to the bottom side OC and still others, 4, parallel to the lower stretch of the stairway from the landing to the floor, OP.
Those sets of lines were produced for different geometric, compositional reasons. But when we put them all together, we find that, of themselves, they constitute a final formation of lines pointing in a certain direction: to a place in the lower rectangle. Not only do they point, but they are oriented by the subject matter: as lances pushed forward by the Spanish. To receive those lines, there is a round shield, 5, to which they come. That shield gives unity to the whole scheme of diagonals, and at the same time, being plump in the middle of the upright rectangle, it links together the two parts of the mural, which otherwise would have a tendency to come apart. The lines of the lances are all vermillion, and the shield is pastel gray-green, a much more subdued color, so that the speed of aggression and the passive reception of aggression are expressed through color also.
To solve the problem of the different points of view from which the mural is seen, I had to compromise, Figure IX. If I had taken only the point of view of someone seeing the picture from down up, it would have been natural for all the faces to be seen in a strong down up perspective--a very agreeable effect from that one point of view. But that perspective would look like a deformation to someone who had climbed up to the balcony, A, because he would be looking at the picture from up down. So at least some of the faces had to be represented from up down. Then again, someone looking at the picture from the stairs, B, has to have a number of faces that are seen level, say, in profile. As you see, it was impossible to cater exclusively to any one of those three points of view, so I had to compromise. That is, you will find some of the faces at the top are in up-down perspective, some are seen from down up, and others again are on a level, so that all through the picture is a kind of medley of those three different points of view, which gives a baroque impression, like a Tintoretto perhaps--not in the handling, but in those different points of view. But it does so for a very conscious, very common sense reason, so that I didn't feel ashamed of it.
The mural is really larger than it looks in an illustration. The figures are about three and a half times natural size or a little more. It is a scene of battle and therefore of utter confusion. It does look like something accidental was happening--that is, if I put over my intention, which was that the subject matter, the picture, should look dramatic rather than architectural.
On one side, the Spanish people in their armor are dumping themselves over onto the group of Indians on the other side. For example, the vertical position of the Spaniard on the extreme right is coming to the diagonal position of the Spaniard in front of him, which represents that dumping movement I spoke of. The Indian people are passive, static, so, technically speaking, they afford a nice contrast to the dynamics of the Spaniards.
The suits of armor have been done in such a way as to suggest what armor meant to the people of the time: not picturesque museum pieces for display, but very functional machines. Those Spaniards could defeat the Indians because they had machines. The armor here is a symbol of the contact of the white man and the Indian through the ages. That is, this is not so much a historical picture as a symbolical one.
In the bottom right corner is a little group of people, portraits of myself and some friends. Well, why not?
Jean Charlot's First Fresco: The Massacre in the Main Temple
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